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Hockey: Irish drop pair of games at home

Peter Steiner | Monday, January 21, 2013

In a weekend marked as an opportunity to return to form, Notre Dame fell further into its slump, losing a 5-4 heartbreaker Friday followed by a 2-1 defeat Saturday at the hands of Alaska.

The Irish returned to the Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend hopeful after losing three games on their four-game road trip. But playing at home didn’t cure the Irish struggles as they finished the weekend stuck in a four-game losing streak.

Friday’s game particularly stung for the Irish as they fought back twice in the third period, only to allow two Alaska goals soon after. Down 3-2 midway through the third period and facing a penalty kill situation, the Irish tied the game when senior defenseman Sam Calabrese connected with streaking junior center T.J. Tynan, who finished the breakaway against Nanook freshman goalkeeper John Keeney.

But Alaska countered less than a minute later when senior left winger Jarret Granberg tipped in a pass from senior right winger Nik Yaremchuk to retake the lead, 4-3.

“When T.J. scored that tying goal, we were flying,” Lee said. “Then they came back and popped one to take the lead again and it just kills you.”

The Irish had new life though with four minutes remaining in the third period when freshman left winger Mario Lucia netted the equalizer with a wrist shot from the left circle.

But with three seconds left in the game, the Nanooks struck again when an Irish turnover gave the puck to the Nanooks in the Irish zone. Junior goalkeeper Steven Summerhays saved the initial shot, but Granberg rushed the net and put in the rebound to win the game, 5-4.

“All we needed to do was just gap up and let the clock kill,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

“It’s tough when we fight back, fight back and then we make poor decisions with the puck and it ends up in our net.”

Lee finished the game with one goal and two assists, giving him his 100th point in his career. But that was little consolation in a game where the Irish fought the whole game, only to lose in the last seconds.

“We battled back. We were down most of the game and we put ourselves in position,” Lee said. “But at the same time we did put ourselves in that position to be down at the end.”

With an added significance to Saturday’s game, the Irish came out strong, taking the 1-0 lead again on a rebound goal by Lucia after a shot by junior defenseman Stephen Johns.

But while quick counter goals by Alaska killed Notre Dame’s momentum Friday, the momentum changer Saturday took the form of a five-minute major penalty. Freshman left winger Thomas DiPauli delivered a hit from behind on Nanooks freshman defenseman Josh Atkinson and received a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct.

“I thought we were playing real well, then a five minute major, especially to one of our top penalty killers … was a little bit too much,” Jackson said. “That’s how a lot of our games have gone in recent games. Something happens, it changes the momentum of the game and [Saturday night] it was the five-minute major and it was hard for us to get back.”

Alaska took advantage of the opportunity and scored two quick back-to-back goals in the 16th minute of the first period.

Down 2-1 at the end of the first period, the Irish were never able to regain momentum. Notre Dame had four power play opportunities after losing the lead, including a nearly four-minute one-man advantage, but the Irish were unable to score.

“Our power play hasn’t had the same chemistry since we lost two guys from our top two units, one from each unit,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to reunite Tynan and Lee and [junior right winger Bryan Rust] and trying to find that chemistry to get something going again.”

Injuries kept junior right and left wingers Mike Voran and Jeff Costello out of both games. When DiPauli received the game misconduct in Saturday’s game, the Irish were left without any other available forwards. The Irish felt the impact on its penalty-killing unit, whose members were fatigued by the third period, Jackson said.

“The tough thing is when you got those guys, because of the short-handedness of our penalty kill, and you got [Tynan, Lee and Rust] out there killing penalties, by the third period they are exhausted,” Jackson said. “When we need to score a goal, our top guys are tired from killing penalties.”

Saturday’s loss represented the third game in a row the Irish have scored the first goal, only to lose the game. Despite losing its first home series this year, Notre Dame is still tied with Western Michigan for first place in the CCHA with 33 points.

The Irish will finally have a full week of practice and a normal routine after finishing its sixth game in 12 days.

“We have a good week of practice,” Jackson said. “Rest, back into a normal routine with school and practice. Then we just have to wait until we get some guys healthy and hopefully we get that chemistry back.”

The Irish will face Ferris State this upcoming weekend at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu